Interview With H.E. Ambassador Hamid Al-Bayati
Dr. Hamid al-Bayati is an Iraqi diplomat, academic and author of numerous books including Donald Trump’s New World Order: U.S. Credibility, Reputation, and Integrity, published by Fairleigh Dickinson University Press (2020). He is also the author of From Dictatorship to Democracy An Insider’s Account of the Iraqi Opposition to Saddam, published by the University of Pennsylvania Press (2011), and A New Counterterrorism Strategy: Why the World Failed to Stop Al Qaeda and ISIS/ISIL, and How to Defeat Terrorists, published by Praeger Security International. He teaches political science and public policy at Fairleigh Dickinson University, Rutgers University and Fordham University.
Your new book compares the foreign policy of the present administration with that of its predecessors. What are the main differences that you highlight?
The previous administrations consulted, listened to and showed more respect for United States (U.S.) advisers, diplomats and experts regarding foreign policy than the present administration. President Trump, for instance, dismissed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in March 2018 via Twitter. It may be the most humiliating and disrespectful way for a president to fire a senior member of his administration. Trump said, “Let me tell you, the one that matters is me, I’m the only one that matters because when it comes to it, that’s what the policy is going to be.” Also, the present administration attacked allies such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and European Union and appeased adversaries such as Russian President Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. In July 2018, Trump said, “I have NATO, I have the U.K., which is in somewhat turmoil, and I have Putin. Frankly, Putin may be the easiest of them all.” The present administration also departed from its predecessors regarding the One-China policy adopted since President Richard Nixon visited China in 1973. Trump said he, unlike former U.S. presidents, could denuclearize North Korea, so he met North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un three times and praised him to convince him to do that, but could not achieve any serious results.
You wrote your book prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. In what ways has the pandemic confirmed or changed your analysis of the present administration’s foreign policy?
COVID-19 confirmed that the present administration did not listen to science and experts, suggesting in the beginning when the virus erupted in China that the U.S. is safe because it is far away from China. After the virus reached the U.S., Trump suggested it would “disappear” and did not listen to science and experts’ advice to wear or mandate that the people wear face masks. As a result, the U.S. had one of the largest numbers of infected people in the world, and even the president and the first lady tested positive.
Are there other notable ways in which this administration has rejected science evidence in formulating foreign policy?
Trump denies global warming and said that scientists are wrong when he claimed that the world will “start getting cooler.” His comments ignored how climate change has contributed to natural disasters as the nation watches fires spread across the West, causing damage and killing people.
The subtitle of your book is “U.S. Credibility, Reputation, and Integrity.” Can you explain what you mean by that and why it is important?
Trump decided to withdraw from many international organizations and international agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership; the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); the Human Rights Council; and the Paris Climate Accord. The U.S. also withdrew from a landmark nuclear weapons treaty with Russia called the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces agreement (INF) and the Open Skies Treaty, which is intended to reduce the risk of war. Trump also stated that the U.S. might withdraw from the military alliance known as NATO. As a result, European allies lost confidence that the U.S. will be committed to protecting its European allies, and they started to think about a European military alliance like NATO. Trump also decided in May 2018 to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran — signed by the U.S., the U.K., France, Russia and China and approved by the United Nations — despite huge efforts of U.S. allies to change his mind. Trump also demanded in June 2018 an end to all purchases of Iranian oil, effectively placing an embargo on Iran’s oil exports and re-imposed U.S. unilateral sanctions. This makes countries like North Korea think twice before they sign a deal with the U.S. about denuclearization because any new administration could withdraw from it. Iran said it will continue its commitments to the nuclear deal if other countries that signed the deal continued their commitments. As a result, the United Nations decided to lift international sanctions against Iran including an arms embargo. Iran and China signed a strategic deal for 25 years according to which China will provide Iran with what it needs such as arms and modern technology, and Iran in return will provide China with oil and gas.
These are definitely examples of deviations from the foreign policies of his predecessors. However, in what ways have these deviations harmed the credibility and reputation of the U.S.? Why does that matter? And do you think that this damage will outlast the present administration? What specifically can Trump’s successors (whether they are elected in 2020 or 2024) do to repair this damage?
When former Republican and Democratic Presidents followed these policies, it was an indication that these policies were in the interest of the U.S. Deviations from these policies harm the credibility and reputation of the U.S., and the world could lose confidence in American policymakers. The damage could outlast the present administration if the damage cannot be salvaged. Trump’s successors should rebuild confidence in U.S. foreign policy by assuring the world that the U.S. will review its policies, correct them and learn lessons from the country’s previous mistakes.
There appears to be a consensus among foreign policy experts that China’s sphere of international influence is growing, while that of the United States is shrinking, but disagreement as to what, if anything, can and should be done about that. What is your view?
When the U.S. withdraws and leaves a vacuum anywhere in the world, other states jump in and fill that vacuum. China is at the forefront of countries that will fill that vacuum, as it has the financial, military and technical capabilities. The U.S. should continue to play its leadership role in the world and should not shy away from its global responsibilities. Present administration policies push many countries toward U.S. adversaries, especially China, Russia and Iran.
Should the U.S. view China as an adversary or merely as an economic competitor? And why?
China is the strongest economic competitor to the U.S., but it is also an adversary because it is pursuing military as well as economic supremacy. China has a strategic plan to be the number-one superpower in the world or to balance its power with that of the U.S. to restore the two-power balance similar to the Cold War era of the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
Americans do not usually pay much attention to foreign affairs. As the 2020 election approaches, should Americans be paying more attention to foreign policy and, if so, which aspects of foreign policy?
Indeed, foreign policy in any U.S. election is equal to domestic policy, and Americans should be paying more attention to foreign policy if they prefer that the U.S. plays a leading role in the world. The present administration cut about one-third of the budget of the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The budget of such important organizations should be increased, not cut. The present administration fought battles with friends and foes at the same time, causing tension, chaos and turmoil in many places. The U.S. was on the verge of full-scale war, and a war could break intentionally or by accident at any time. The next administration should reevaluate foreign policy and start negotiations to avoid wars and confrontations and to reach peaceful agreements.
What sorts of things should young Americans be learning in schools and universities to help them better understand foreign policy in the linkage between foreign and domestic issues? How important, for example, is understanding of concepts such as globalization, sustainability, colonialism and culture differences?
Young Americans should be learning more about other countries, nations, cultures and traditions to help them understand the connections between foreign and domestic issues. It is very important to understand these concepts because the world has become like a small village with easy transportation and speedy communication through modern technology such as cellphones and the internet.